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Rob Sargent,
Environment Washington

As Legislature Considers Future of Solar Production Incentives, Residents Could See More Benefits From the Sun

For Immediate Release

Seattle, WA – Solar panels provide pollution free energy that delivers far reaching benefits to the environment and the electric grid, said a new report released today by Environment Washington Research & Policy Center. The report outlines how solar panels on homes, schools and businesses often provide more benefits than they receive through programs like net metering from utilities.

“Solar power provides tremendous benefits to Washington’s environment and all electric customers,” said Bruce Speight with Environment Washington. “We should be encouraging even more solar, in order to reduce pollution and lower energy costs.”

The Environment Washington Research & Policy Center report, Shining Rewards: The Value of Rooftop Solar Power for Consumers and Society (2016 edition), comes as state legislators look to extend Washington’s renewable energy incentive program, which has both offered electricity customers an incentive for producing clean, reliable renewable energy and helped to build a state solar manufacturing sector.

Jessica Koski of the Sierra Club and Brad Miller, a Seattle homeowner who installed solar on his home four years ago, joined Environment Washington to release the report’s findings at Brad’s home in Ballard.

“Distributed solar power is vital for transitioning off coal and preventing new natural gas,” said Jessica Koski, Associate Organizing Representative of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign.

“It means a more stable climate, healthier communities, and local economic growth. Plus, whereas coal and gas can fluctuate wildly in price, we know that the sun will always be there, providing affordable and stable electricity. With all that solar has to offer, we must continue to encourage its growth.”

Solar energy on rooftops can help communities to avoid greenhouse gas emissions, reduce air pollution harmful to public health and create local jobs, the report shows. Net metering programs credit solar panel owners when they generate more power than they use, providing electricity for other customers. Utilities then credit solar panel owners a fixed rate – often the retail price of electricity – for providing excess power to the grid, similar to rollover minutes on a cell phone plan.

The arrangements have helped solar energy grow significantly, with the US installing its 1 millionth solar installation in May of this year. In communities across the country, net metering has helped low-income residents go solar and lower their energy bills, earning credit for the extra energy they send back to the utility each month.

Environment Washington’s report examines 16 studies on the value of solar energy. The studies show that the dollar and cents value of solar is often higher than the credit utilities provide to customers, despite claims from some utilities that the arrangement represents a subsidy from non-solar users.

Of the 16 studies reviewed, 12 found that the value of solar energy was higher than the average local residential retail electricity rate. The median value of solar power across all 16 studies was around 16 cents per unit, compared to the nation’s average retail electricity rate of about 13 cents per unit.

In other words: solar customers often provided more benefits than they received in credits.

“Rooftop solar users are givers, not takers, when it comes to the value they provide to society and the electric system.” said Speight. “In many cases it appears that solar programs are a bargain for utilities, not a burden.”

All 16 studies found that solar panel users offered the electric system net benefits.

“Programs like net metering make sense because I get clean, reliable power from the sun and get fairly credited for the extra energy I’m able to send to my neighbors,” said Brad Miller, a Seattle homeowner. “It feels good to use renewable energy while saving money and helping my community. There’s just nothing bad about it.”

Along with net metering, Washington State’s Renewable Energy Incentive Program has helped to create and sustain more than 2,000 jobs in solar energy installation, sales and equipment manufacturing, and has helped to deploy over 60 megawatts in solar production, with 23 megawatts installed since 2014. More than 130 solar companies are employing Washingtonians from Vancouver to Spokane, and approximately 10,000 homes and businesses in Washington state have converted to solar.

“There’s so much to gain by going big on solar,” said Speight. “Let’s make sure we take full advantage of all the benefits by allowing solar continue to grow here in Washington State and all across the country.”

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Environment Washington Research & Policy Center is a statewide advocacy organization bringing people together for a cleaner, greener, healthier future. www.EnvironmentWashington.org.